Science & Environment

US-Russia space station crew delayed in orbit after glitch

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Media captionThe launch of the spacecraft - early on Wednesday morning in Kazakhstan - went without a hitch

A rocket carrying US and Russian astronauts to the International Space Station has had to delay docking for almost two days because of a glitch.

The craft was expected to dock with the station six hours after its launch from Kazakhstan early on Wednesday morning.

However, a 24-second engine thruster burn required to change its orbit path failed to work as planned.

The crew are not said to be in any danger. The joint mission comes amid high tension between the US and Russia.

The two governments have been exchanging terse rhetoric after Russia's annexation of Crimea this month.

However, co-operation on the space programme has continued, a legacy of the thaw in relations that accompanied the end of the Cold War.

At a press conference before the flight, the astronauts said they would treat dinners aboard the space station "as an opportunity to come together as friends in the kitchen and look each other in the eye".

Image copyright NASA
Image caption The space station will be understaffed until the Soyuz rocket docks with it

The Soyuz booster rocket, carrying Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and American Steve Swanson, blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

However, shortly before the craft was due to dock with the space station, officials reported that an engine that was meant to guide the manoeuvre had not operated "as planned".

Oleg Ostapenko, the head of the Roscosmos Russian space agency, said that the problem had been caused by a failure of the ship's orientation system.

"The crew have taken off their spacesuits and are continuing their flight normally," he said.

The astronauts are now aiming to dock with the space station at the next best opportunity - likely to be 23:58 GMT on Thursday.

The crew have reverted to a two-day approach, used by Russian flights to the space station until 2012. This involves orbiting Earth 34 times.

The shorter, six-hour approach - orbiting Earth only four times - was introduced last year.

The US relies on Russia to fly its astronauts to the space station since it retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

The space station - an orbiting laboratory high above Earth - is operated by 15 nations. It currently has a crew of three.

The arrival of the three astronauts aboard the Soyuz rocket will bring staff levels back to normal.

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